Green is Good: LACBA Environmental Law Practitioners Discuss Careers in Environmental Law
The world of environmental law is as vast and complex as the natural resources it aims to protect. Representing private, government, in-house and public interest settings, a panel of diverse experts gathered to speak to the Southwestern community about this multifaceted area of practice. Co-sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Association Environmental Law Section and Southwestern's Career Services Office, the panel included Peter Duchesneau '93 of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; Sarah Morrison, Deputy Attorney General, California Attorney General's Office; Vincent Gonzales, Senior Environmental Counsel, Southern California Gas Company; and Angela Howe, Legal Director, Surfrider Foundation. Students learned valuable information about pursuing a career in environmental law and how to achieve what Mr. Duchesneau calls, "that balance between what our society wants and what is good for the environment."
The panelists explained that just as our planet relies on the balance between resources vs. human activity to stay healthy and thriving, so too, does environmental law aim to provide a kind of equilibrium taking into account economics, education, politics and preservation. Ms. Morrison, whose office handles the most prosecution work of the Attorney General's three environmentally-related sections, asserted that "If both sides don't like us, then we know we're doing a good job."
Though it can be challenging to interpret, explain and enforce various statutes such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), this area of practice is often considered both meaningful and cutting-edge - especially in a State with the most progressive environmental laws and policies in the country. All four speakers emphasized, however, the importance of soul over science. For aspiring lawyers in this area, it is important to learn about the concepts influencing environmental law, as well as how to describe such concepts to others.
Law students interested in practicing environmental law were encouraged to consider: Do you like reading detailed regulations or performing in court? Would you rather attempt to fit together a syntactical puzzle of environmental terms, or support environmental groups in mitigating the impacts of, for example, a new stadium proposed to be built in Los Angeles? The panelists stressed the importance of becoming familiar with environmental law and organizations from the ground up - to get involved at the grassroots level, attend public outreach events, take advantage of fellowships to gain some valuable experience and stay current on related topics in the news. Over the next several years, the practice of Environmental Law will be more relevant and important than any time in our nation's history. It's time to get involved... Green is good.